Supporting junior colleagues – a trainee’s perspective

Justin Farrance

After many months of lockdown and newfound ways of living, the pandemic has left its mark on almost every aspect of society. Alongside the individual challenges faced by so many, it’s hard to ignore the professional impact caused by the virus. Specifically, alternative ways of working present unique obstacles for junior colleagues starting out in their career. This blog focuses on some common challenges and makes suggestions for both juniors and managers to ensure new recruits put their best foot forward on the career ladder.

A new way of working… new challenges for junior colleagues

Despite the obstacles being faced by employees across all levels of an organisation, there is no denying the unique difficulties experienced by graduates and junior colleagues in a world of remote working. For many, this will be their first full-time role in a professional environment, and they will be trying to grapple with expectations and responsibilities amongst a team of strangers. With that in mind, the development of friendships and bonds in the workplace are key for mental health and development reasons. This is supported by a global survey conducted by LinkedIn, which highlighted that friendships in the workplace make 57% of 18-24 year olds feel happy and 50% feel motivated. Whilst the pandemic has freed up time for many to spend with families, it has erased the ability for new-starts to meet their peers and bond over the water cooler, even if it is only to talk about some of the trivial annoyances such as operating a printer.

For junior colleagues, simple, everyday tasks can feel like more of a challenge compared to others unless the necessary framework is implemented. For example, the thought process behind wanting to introduce yourself to a team member is often clouded by an internal voice telling you not to disturb them. There’s also the trivial dilemma of not quite knowing the style of your team… should you send a quick email or pick up the phone? Luckily, many teams have quickly noticed the importance of building a virtual

support network and developing their friendly working environment.

As a current trainee solicitor in the Employment team at Allen & Overy, the pandemic has changed the conventional journey of my law firm training contract. The ability to learn through what many call ‘office osmosis’, the notion of learning from those surrounding you, has been removed. The inability to absorb information from those within my close proximity means I have to find new ways of gathering knowledge. A personal struggle for many juniors, myself included, is knowing when to log off and step away from the computer. As a senior colleague in the team reminded me, ‘in the office, you’d happily go and grab a chocolate from the office vending machine – don’t be afraid to step away from your desk and have the same discipline or rest at home!’. Sometimes a simple reminder (albeit virtually) from the team goes a long way for anyone starting out in their profession.

Recommendations for junior colleagues

For those who recently started a new junior role, here’s a few tips that I have gathered over the past few months:

  • Find a mentor: the ability to learn from someone and gain a deeper insight into an organisation is invaluable. Even if your company hasn’t yet formalised a mentoring programme, seek out your own individual and ask if they’d consider being your mentor.
  • Ask to join more calls: to combat a lack of ‘office osmosis’, learn from your senior colleagues by proactively asking to join a variety of calls, even if only to listen.
  • Find your voice: speaking up on a team call may seem daunting, but the team will value your input and perspective. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to offer your unique perspective.

Recommendations for line managers

If virtual working is likely to become, in part, the norm, sharing ideas and best practice is important across all professions. With that in mind, here are a couple of recommendations for line managers to further support junior colleagues:

  • Set the optimum tone from the top. If juniors see managers putting aside some time for personal commitments during daylight hours, others will follow suit.
  • Arrange phone calls with a group of junior colleagues to ask for their ideas and insights on how to better support their needs. Running focus groups can help to challenge current initiatives and work towards best practice.
  • ‘Cup of tea for three’. Why not bring the office coffee chat to your home with a fun and informal initiative – assigning three colleagues from different teams to have a video call and interact with junior colleagues across your organisation on a monthly basis. This is an initiative I’ve been introduced to and I am currently on my second month, meeting new colleagues on each rotation.
  • Assign a team call in the calendar for your junior colleagues to organise and lead on its content and discussion. Providing opportunities for development can be very rewarding.
  • If quizzes fizzled out during the previous lockdown, encourage your junior colleagues or wider team to lead on organising a new team social. Our team just organised an ‘Escape Room’ social – update on who wins to follow!

If lockdown and the pandemic have taught me anything, it’s the importance of checking in with others and asking how people are. I practise this habit at work and reach out to new friends and colleagues, even if only at the start of a matter-related call, to see how their day is going. At a time like this, it’s essential to support colleagues and your wider team, and I feel very lucky to be a part of mine.